By William Haupt III [Tennessee Watchdog Journalist, Columnist, Author, and Citizen Legislator]
Prop 13 the 3rd rail of CA politics; its rise, its fall; How the gold coast became the left coast.
“From Prop 13 to dot-com, to the WWW and Ronald Reagan, to Prop 187 and illegal sanctuary, to gay marriage and sex-changes: This reinvented California. I know; I was there.” -William Haupt III
In 1978, we gave the citizens of California the most precious gift since the Party in Boston Harbor. The ability to control all taxes and spending by voters on every tax increase in the state: Prop 13.
But California gave it away one bad law at a time to pay for illegals they welcomed into the state.
The history of Prop 13 is a colorful tale of lore, about a group of courageous “Davids” defeating the almighty tax giant. By 1978 property taxes had escalated so high homeownership had become an anomaly. There was a massive exodus of businesses! Government spending increased three fold in one decade and the state’s budget was the highest in America. Over 35% of Californians worked for the state, or were under state contract, and all public sector workers were members of unions.
A small group of us citizen lawmakers wanted to stop the economic bleeding before the weight of state debt sank the former gold coast state into the Pacific Ocean. It was either reform the tax code or rebuild Noah’s arch. Armed with pens and petitions we toiled 24/7 getting signatures to place the most historic tax reform bill in U.S. history on the ballot: Prop 13. We sat at the doors of shopping centers and walked the streets from daybreak to nightfall, to quantify this epigraphic tax reform act.
The state, city and county governments cried if Prop 13 passed we’d lose police and fire protection and utility services. And the state infrastructure would collapse. Teachers said schools would close! But we marched forward with valor and vigor. And on June 6, 1978 Proposition 13 passed by 68%.
Documented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Prop 13 brought two decades of unprecedented economic growth to the tarnished gold coast. For 20 years, California’s prosperity was the envy of the union. California became the land of milk and honey for new enterprise and innovation. Prop 13 built the information highway for the universe with its dot-coms and the World Wide Web. Soon the entire world used its new age technologies, microchips and possessors; invented in Silicon Valley.
Although data trickled over primitive air-waves since the 1960s, Prop 13 bankrolled so much new technology it enabled physicists in Santa Clara Valley to fine tune frequencies for consumer’s use. When Paul Kunz plugged in the world’s first web server, the IBM mainframe at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Santa Clara Valley reinvented itself and became known as the “Silicon Valley.” Although Tennessee’s Al Gore says he invented the internet, Stanford’s Paul Kunz likely disagrees.
The success of Prop 13 was as contagious as COVID. The Prop 13 mission reverberated across the nation and ignited the 1980’s tax revolts. Tax-capping measures sprouted up everywhere, run by local Don Quixote tax generals. Arizona, Florida, Oregon, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Utah and others soon passed their own flavors of Prop 13. Naysayers that predicted California would fall off the financial cliff if voters passed Prop 13 benefited the most from its “increased tax revenues.”
Prop 13 froze property taxes at 1% of purchase price and allowed a 2% yearly inflation increase. But any tax revenue governments lost they quickly regained from increased sales taxes and fees paid by the growth of new and local business and industries. As Obama said, “Everyone paid their fair share!” and property taxes remained the single largest source of local tax revenue for schools.
For decades Prop 13 withstood numerous Supreme Court challenges to dismantle the iconic, core principles of the “People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation“. The significance of this legendary effort to control government growth was infinite. When we passed Prop 13, we were told it was too good to be true and it would never last. But it endured—as long as- “the people chose to protect it.”
California has always been a haven for illegals due to its Central and Imperial Valley agricultural industries. But by the 1990s, the state was over-run with illegal parasites. Running out of funds to give free public services to this influx of illegal freeloaders, the financial well was depleted of funds.
A ballot initiative to deny treasury gifts to illegals, Prop 187 was backed by GOP Gov. Pete Wilson, and passed November 8, 1994, by 60%. It cut off welfare, free health care and public education to illegals; leaving only emergency services. State agencies had to report all illegals to the Attorney General and U.S. Immigration. It made possessing fake citizenship papers a felony. But the day it passed, progressives across America filed suits to derail it, and it was soon undone by the courts.
Prop 187 was the beginning of the end of GOP political influence on the left coast. And it led to the eventual demise of Prop 13–which tanked California’s economy. When the left chose illegals over citizens and business, California became a welfare state. Progressives from coast to coast poured money into California to dump Republicans from office statewide. As a result illegals flocked from Baja to Alta Cali! And to pay for this new open door policy, Democrats began dismantling Prop 13.
By the mid 1990s, many of the mighty warriors that engaged in combat against left coast tax abuse were fading into the sunset of tax protest nirvana. And progressives began inflicting mortal wounds on Prop 13. Deceiving campaigns sabotaged this historic thesis of its protections. Left coast voters shot themselves in both feet; eliminating core protections of Prop 13 to finance services for illegals.
In 2006, the last founding member of the epic Prop 13 tax revolt fled south of the Mason-Dixon Line to the friendly harbors of the Cumberland. He had led the citizen defense league in defending Prop 13 for over 35 years. And nobody stepped up to fill his shoes. This gave impetus to progressives to eradicate the last core protections of Prop 13. When Prop 13 lost its last gallant hero to the land of Dixie, it doomed Prop 13. And this nailed the coffin shut on any hope to save California from itself!
The 2008 election of Barack Obama proved progressives had consumed the state. A state that sent favorite son Ronald Reagan to Washington twice, elected Barack Obama by a landslide! That one election proved Republicans were an endangered species in a state that was now the destination for the homeless, LBGTs, illegals, criminals, derelicts, bohemians, and every political malcontent.
According to Census data, in 2018 when left coast cities like Santa Ana were 78% Hispanic, with over 41% illegals, California passed Senate Bill 54 to make the entire state a sanctuary haven for illegals. All who could, walk, crawl or swim across the Rio Grande were welcome! To finance this inundation of illegals, progressives renewed their assaults on finishing off Prop 13. And this would do irreparable damage to the once sacred, consecrated, untouchable third rail of California politics.
Although Prop 13 proudly reins as chapter 13 in the state constitution, it is only a symbolic tribute to the Davids that slayed the omnipotent tax giant. Today protecting homeowners and business from tax increases over 2% a year is the only surviving element of prop 13, after decades of continuous mugging and pugnacious attacks by the far left. But even that remnant is worthless since CA super lefties have inflicted parcel taxes, surcharges and grueling fees on property owners to punish them.
Author Carey McWilliams once described California as “the edge of novelty.” He coined this phrase to characterize its penchant for innovation. He said, “Californians set a national trend for innovation and are prepared to go where no one else will go.” And his impressions were clairvoyant as waves of fortune hunters migrated to this unique “edge of novelty.” And it was Prop 13 that gifted them the economic Shangri-La that fostered entrepreneurial spirit and opportunities they had always wanted.
In the 1960s the Mamas and the Papas wrote their hit song, “California Dreamin” which praised the sun, live-and-let-live attitude, and the wonders of California. Since the late 1840s California was the symbol of the American dream. From the Gold Rush, to the famed Hollywood movie studios, it was the place where every Walter Mitty could become a paragon. And it was our efforts to pass Prop 13 that financed Silicon Valley’s technology boom and linked information from around the world today.
Jimmy Carter said what happens in California is contagious. What brought California’s demise was eliminating Prop 13, the greatest gift citizens ever had in America to control government’s power to use tax dollars to finance illegal immigration. As the illegal curse spreads and infects the budgets and freedom of every citizen in every state, their tax dollars will be rationed for services for illegals at the expense of their liberties. Illegals will become every state’s Waterloo, like it was to California.
“We must rid the state from all remnants of Prop 13 if we ever want to be a true sanctuary state. That chapter in our state constitution has inhibited our ability for years to provide adequate social and support services for our undocumented immigrants. It must go!” -Gov. Gavan Newson, D-CA.
William Haupt III is a retired professional journalist, author, and citizen legislator in California for over 40 years. He got his start working to approve California Proposition 13. His work also appears in The Center Square, The Western Journal, Neighbor Newspapers, KPXJ 21 (Shreveport, LA), Killeen Daily Herald, Aberdeen American News, InsideNova, Kankakee Daily Journal, Monterey County Weekly, Olean Times Herald, The Greeneville Sun and more. Follow William on Twitter @iii_haupt.